Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Winnie the Pooh," "Cowboys & Aliens," and "Horrible Bosses"

I've gone to three movies in the past week that couldn't really be more different. We've got some ground to cover so let's get started.

"Winnie the Pooh" - For the past decade or so there has been a concerted effort by animated filmmakers to appeal more and more to adults. Whether it's the themes, characters, or sense of humor, animated movies seem to be made to work on multiple levels for vastly different audiences. What makes Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" unique is just how kiddie it really is. There's nothing in it that a five year old won't understand. And really that's exactly how it should be. This doesn't mean however that adults will not enjoy it. If at any time in your life you have loved A.A. Milne's tales of, "a bear of very little brain," then this movie will put a smile on your face.
The plot is simple really. Eeyore's tale is missing and the rest of Christopher Robin's little friends seek a suitable replacement for it. However when Owl (voiced by Craig Ferguson), the most educated creature in the Hundred Acre Woods, comes to believe that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by a dangerous "bakson," the gang must pull together to get him back.
Light as can be and like Milne's original stories, "Winnie the Pooh" is clever without going over a child's head. It's fun and at barely more than an hour in length, it keeps five year old attention spans (and bladders) in mind. Something else that sets "Pooh" apart is that Ferguson aside, there are no big names voicing major characters. We're not suddently hearing the voice of John Goodman coming out of Pooh's mouth. Instead, it's just a very talented collection of voice actors. Jim Cummings has voiced Pooh for decades now and it's still amazing how eerily similar he sounds to the original Pooh, Sterling Holloway.
This is a terrific little movie that is unfortunately being overlooked. 7.5/10.

"Cowboys & Aliens" - Since the first trailer for this was released last autumn this was very near the top of my most anticipated movies list. Daniel Craig in the old west, Harrison Ford actually looking like he was enjoying himself for the first time in a long time, and Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") directing a sci-fi western. Yes, please! I was very excited. So did it live up to my hopes?
Jake Lonergan (Craig) doesn't know he's Jake Lonergan, or what that name means when he wakes up in the desert with a strange shackle upon his wrist and an unexplained wound on his stomach. Much like Jason Bourne, Jake may not know who he is, but he knows how to kill people threatening his life without hesitation. After learning this, Jake finds himself in Absolution, a town owned by cattle man Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford). Dolarhyde's obnoxious son Percy (Paul Dano) doesn't let anyone in town forget just who is in charge in Absolution.
Not being one to be intimidated by anyone, Jake stands up to the young hooligan, which leads to a series of events that land the both of them in jail. With the pair about to be taken elsewhere to be tried, the mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde) hopes to enlist Jake's help with something, well, mysterious.
Before the coach can leave Absolution, something no one has ever before seen flies into town leaving a trail of destruction and kidnapping several townsfolk, including Percy, the sheriff (Keith Carradine), and the wife (Ana de la Reguera) of the town doctor (Sam Rockwell). The only weapon that the people of Absolution have to fight it is what Jake is wearing on his wrist, much to his surprise. Jake, Dolarhyde, Ella, Doc, and the rest of the remaining townspeople band together to track down the alien menace and get their loved ones back.
"Cowboys & Aliens" is a movie I really wanted to love and for a little while I did. It gets off to an excellent start and there was a lot of potential here. Favreau, the actors, and the screenplay by committee get the tone just right. This isn't a big budget extravaganza masquerading as B-movie schlock, it's a big budget extravaganza that knows that's just what it is, and it's played with a straight face, as it should be. The trouble is, that screenplay by committee, makes for a muddled story and wastes some terrific opportunities. So much more could have been done with the relationship between Dolarhyde and Percy. As it is, you really don't care whether or not the two are reunited. The emotional core of the film ends up being the subplot involving Doc's search for his wife. Rockwell proves once again that he is simply one of the finest actors alive today and his character is clearly the one the audience will care about the most.
In terms of the other performances Craig is terrific and is the main reason that tonally at least, "Cowboys & Aliens" works. Wilde does a fine job with a character who isn't developed as much as she ought to be given how important she is to the story. There's also a nice performance by Clancy Brown as Absolution's preacher. Other than Doc, he's the character you'll like the most.
The question of Harrison Ford though. Well he's engaged with the material, which he hasn't seemed to be very often the past several years, but something just feels off. I'm not sure what it is and it's not as though it's a bad performance, but like I said, something just feels off.
Ultimately the biggest problem "Cowboys & Aliens" has is that it just isn't fun enough. It somehow just doesn't manage to be the good time that you wish that it would be. The muddled story and lack of character development are the biggest culprits but I think there's another factor. One I can't quite put my finger on. You could do a lot worse than "Cowboys & Aliens," but it's writers could have done much better. 6.5/10.

"Horrible Bosses" - According to the Flaming Lips, "You hate your boss at your job...but in your dreams you can blow his head off." For three friends, Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis, "SNL"), these are words that truly resonate.
Kurt loved his previous boss, but now that his cokehead son Bobby (Colin Farrell) is in charge and demanding that Kurt, "fire all the fat people," things have decidedly changed. Dale is a dental assistant who is happily engaged to Stacy (Lindsay Sloane, "The TV Set"), but unhappily working for maneater Julia (Jennifer Aniston), whose advances are most unwelcome. Nick meanwhile has been passed over for a promotion several years in the making by the truly despicable Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey).
One night as the three best friends try to drink away their sorrows they discuss "hypothetically" killing their bosses, something Dale is uncomfortable even joking about, that is until the next morning when Julia takes things way too far. From here the three decide that their lives would all be better without their bosses in them and they're going to make that dream a reality.
Written by Michael Markowitz, Jonathan Goldstein, and John Francis Daley (who you know as an actor from "Freaks and Geeks" and "Bones"), "Horrible Bosses" is a dark comedy that emphasizes the comedy. Despite a number of trailers and commercials that show several of the film's jokes, almost all of the best ones are saved for the movie. Thanks to its script, Seth Gordon's direction, and the uniformly terrific cast, it's just ceaselessly funny.
Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis play off of each other so well you'd think the three really had been best friends for years. There's a chemistry in their scenes together that just couldn't have worked any better. What the writers and actors also do here is keep these characters likeable in spite of what they plan to carry out. If that had faltered this movie wouldn't have been able to sustain its premise.
As the horrible bosses in question, all three performers get a chance to shine. Aniston delivers a performance far better than is typical for her. Generally her blandness sucks the life out of everything around her but she's very funny here. Farrell meanwhile is obviously having a ball playing Bobby and he's every bit as much fun to watch. Spacey's character and performance are notable because of how not funny they are. Not in a flat, painfully unfunny way, but due to how genuinely risible Harken is. From the get go he is clearly the most despicable boss of the three to the point where you can't even laugh at the bile that spews from his mouth. This is a choice however that ultimately works.
There are also some wonderful cameos throughout the film that don't call unnecessary attention to themselves and Jamie Foxx is a riot as the man the gang hopes will carry out the jobs for them. I'll say nothing else about this character as everything about him is a hilarious surprise.
"Horrible Bosses" is well written, well acted, and directed with a soft touch by a man who was best known before this for making the documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters." You think it's going to run out of steam before the end but it doesn't. This is a very funny film. Don't miss it. 8.5/10.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

I didn't care about "Harry Potter." Not the books, not the movies, and I certainly didn't care for being told I looked like an 11 year old at age 19. I had dark hair and glasses. Harry Potter had dark hair and glasses. Clearly we were the same person. (Thank you unimaginative middle aged Marysvillains.) While I worked at Regal Cinemas each time another new entry was released I spent the opening weekend working without my glasses. My vision was terrible without them and my head would ache more and more throughout the day. My hatred for all things "Potter" grew. But then something happened. And by something I mean I was introduced to the first two films. And by introduced I mean Justin shoved the DVDs into my hands and said, "Watch these." So I did. And slightly to my chagrin...I actually enjoyed them. Not long after I saw the third and not only did I enjoy it, I was impressed. I was getting into this.
Each film from "Goblet of Fire" on I eagerly anticipated and a year ago I at long last read all seven novels, devouring them at a speed I normally reserve for my meals at Taco Bell. There was a sense of satisfaction as I read the final page of "Deathly Hallows," but sadness as well. There was no more "Potter" to read. And with the film "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" there will be no more to see either. From the opening shot this movie tells us quietly, yet in no uncertain terms, "Yes everyone, this is it."
Having helmed each film since "Order of the Phoenix," David Yates brings a supreme sense of confidence to this final entry. He knows these characters and this world and is therefore unafraid to make this the movie it needs to be, which is one that is far different from any of the previous films, even "DH, Part 1." This is the final step for Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and the rest of the students of Hogwarts into adulthood, not by graduating but by going to war.
For those who haven't read the book or need a refresher, this film opens with Harry, Ron, and Hermione needing to break into the wizard bank, Gringotts, to find another Horcrux containing a piece of Voldemort's soul. Once they obtain it Voldemort knows where they are and what they are doing. Returning to Hogwarts to defeat the Dark Lord and his forces can be put off no longer. The time has come.
At 2 hours and 10 minutes this is the shortest "Potter" movie and I can't help but wonder why certain things were not given more room to develop and breathe. The only thing I can say against this film is that at a few turns it assumes that the entire audience has read the book and can fill in some rather important blanks. While none of the omissions are enough to make the movie become nonsensical they will clearly be jarring to those who know "Potter" through the movies only. There are two scenes in particular that I really wish had been allowed to unveil more slowly though I of course will not spoil them here.
These imperfections aside, Yates and writer Steve Kloves do right by the franchise, as has been done all along. This is a deeply satisfying conclusion as a film and as an adaptation of the final book. Not only do the writer and director give Harry and company a fitting send off, the cast does as well. After all of these films I still marvel at the brilliance of Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, and Ralph Fiennes in roles that fit them like gloves. They have been superb from day one but they all seem to bring something a little more extra special to this one. I particularly love the way that Fiennes has brought more personality out of Voldemort than we got from the novels. The man that was Tom Riddle is still there.
Just like the characters they have played we have seen Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson grow up before our eyes. We've seen them grow and develop as actors and I'm eager to see where they go from here. Criticisms are often levelled upon them as actors (save Grint whom everyone rightly seems to love) but they have been the three most important pieces of a decade long film series that will be adored for generations to come. It can't have been easy but all three clearly poured their young hearts and souls into it the whole way along. It doesn't matter that Emma Watson won't become the next Meryl Streep. She needed to be Hermione Granger and she was. As for Radcliffe I expect his future will be bright. This is a talented guy and people are going to realize it.
It's difficult to write more without giving away details I'd rather allow you to discover and enjoy for yourselves. I'll just say this. Whether you have been with Harry since the beginning in the summer of 1997 or his beginning as a film character in the fall of 2001 (or some time in 2004 when you begrudgingly borrowed a couple of DVDs from your friend) you will feel the appropriate mixture of satisfaction and sadness as his world fades to black for the very last time. I'd say hardcore and casual fans alike have thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
Oh, by the way. I wore my glasses as I walked through the lobby Friday night and had my ticket torn. No one said a word. The beard probably helps. 9/10.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Cars 2

For the past decade and a half the word Pixar has been associated with a spotless track record. Not spotless in the sense that its 11 films were all masterpieces but all of them were in that range between excellent and very good with a few flaws. The closest thing to an exception to this was 2006's "Cars," which while overlong and nowhere near the realm of "The Incredibles" or "Monsters, Inc.," was still a pretty good movie that had plenty of heart.
However, I wasn't alone in my concern when I first saw the trailer for "Cars 2." Not only is it the sequel to the studio's weakest offering to date, its spy storyline didn't seem to fit with the spirit of the original. The question on so many minds was, "Has Pixar made its first bad movie?" The answer is no. Not quite. They have however made their first mediocre one. Their first film that I can unequivocally say is not good.
This isn't to say that it doesn't have some good elements because it does. In truth there was potential here for it to be far superior to its predecesor but the movie's attention is on the wrong plot. Ultimately we have a film for which expectations were low and yet somehow managed to be disappointing. So now to try to understand where things went wrong.
Picking up a few years after the events of the first movie, racing star Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is coming off a string of championships in races around the world but still living in Radiator Springs, home of his girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Exhausted from racing and globe trotting Lightning just wants to give himself and his crew some time off but when Italian race car Franceso Bernoulli (John Turturro) throws down a gauntlet on live television Mater accepts the challenge on Lightning's behalf.
A series of races in Japan, France, and England will be held to determine who is the fastest race car in the world. Wanting to give Mater a chance to see the world Lightning brings him along as part of his team. Not only does Mater embarrass Lightning within moments of their arrival he ends up (for reasons far too complicated to explain here) accidentally becoming an international spy, working with British Intelligence cars Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).
As suspected, this spy story doesn't fit the amiable world of "Cars" and thus the film's violence is actually quite shocking. I'm not one who has a problem with movie violence as a rule but it doesn't belong here. Characters are killed on screen quite disturbingly and at one point an order to, "Kill Lightning McQueen" is issued. Even just using Pixar's own canon as an example of how to do this sort of thing the right way look at "The Incredibles." Yes there were characters who we died but we never met them, save for the ones who made the mistake of wearing capes. That wasn't disturbing. It was just funny. Not only is it not funny here it's unnecessary and just downright baffling.
The other baffling decision made by director John Lasseter is to make Mater this movie's star. He's the best friend who works best in small doses, not top banana. But he is indisputably the lead character in "Cars 2." Most of the movie you end up wishing the focus would go back to the subplot involving Lightning's series of races. These are the moments in which the film has some pep and humor and if this story had been allowed to develop and given room to breathe this movie would have actually been a heck of a lot of fun. There is also worthwhile message for kids about friendship that doesn't come off heavy handed or condescending.
What is heavy handed and condescending is the film's political message involving a mysterious villain who controls "big oil." Again, one only needs look at another Pixar film, "Wall-E," to see an environmental message that doesn't beat you over the head with a baseball bat. As presented here, children will not grasp it, and there isn't a trace of subtlety to appeal to adults. What's actually truly offensive about it is how deritative the idea of the big evil corporation is. If you're going to tell a story about an evil corporation or government then have something new to say. Lasseter doesn't.
All in all, "Cars 2" has just enough moments of humor and heart to prevent it from being a truly bad movie. But it falls far short of being a good one. Don't cry doom and gloom that this is the end of Pixar's run. One subpar film out of twelve is nothing to be ashamed of. Besides, the best learn from their failures. I suspect that will be the case here. 5/10.